The police are spending an “unacceptably high” proportion of their time on paperwork and have been slow to introduce technology such as handheld computers, MPs have warned.
The Commons home affairs committee warned that increased police funding – up 40% in real terms in the past decade – did not appear to have impacted directly on crime levels, with a significant fall in crime occurring before any major boost in funding or police officer numbers.
The proportion of police officer time spent on paperwork, at about 20% in each of the past three years, “remains unacceptably high”, the MPs said, while there has been “insufficient progress in introducing personal digital assistants”.
PDAs could have “a major impact in reducing the time spent on bureaucracy” the MPs found, citing evidence that more than 400 British Transport Police officers were using PDAs and “saving 10-15% of officer time”.
The MPs called on chief constables to ensure PDAs were introduced in all police forces “as a matter of urgency”.
Police forces were also “being sluggish” in developing shared services, although these were identified in 2004 as a key element of the police efficiency agenda, the MPs warned.
They called on the Home Office to review its current policy of not mandating police forces to adopt shared services.
But the report also highlights the threat to IT developments in a tightening financial climate.
Bob Jones, chair of the Association of Police Authorities, told the committee the police were in talks with the Home Office about dropping or reprioritising activities, including “a whole series of national IT programmes that are going to have to be looked at to see whether they do have a proper business case that can actually deliver in these particular areas”.
National police IT developments have already seen a shake-up. In May the government began procurement for a £600m police national database – but admitted that the £25.2m Cross-regional information sharing project (Crisp) had been axed.
Crisp was seen as a crucial stepping stone to the national police IT system recommended in June 2004 by the Bichard inquiry into the deaths of schoolgirls Jessica Chapman and Holly Wells in June 2004. The database is not expected to be up and running until 2010, six years after Bichard made his recommendations.